Violin lessons

Pupil playing the violin

What's involved?

Regular lessons, with practice in between. Playing the violin is a complicated task, and we will gradually build up layer upon layer of technique, skill and knowledge.

This will include learning to play pieces of music, starting with very easy ones and then moving onto greater challenges, and also working at technical exercises such as scales. Developing your skills in singing and listening is important, too, as these will help you play sensitively and in tune.

It's a good idea to find opportunities to play with other string players, and I can help point you in the right direction for this.

How often? How long? How much does it cost?

Beginners generally need 30 minute lessons once a week. Some more advanced pupils require longer lessons, and the very youngest may benefit from more frequent shorter sessions.

Lessons are currently priced at a rate of £25 per hour, charged in four-week blocks. This is after a free initial consultation meeting or first lesson, which is available to anybody who is interested, without any obligation.

Once you've started, it's important to get into a routine of regular practice during the week, to make the most of the work done in lessons. Frequent short sessions are the best way to make progress, and if possible try not to have more than one day off in a row.

Children may need help and encouragement to develop this routine, and it can be a good idea to keep everything they need (instrument, music, music stand etc.) together in one place, easily accessible for when they go to practise.

Where do you teach?

I teach in the front room of my home in Altrincham. There's also space elsewhere in the house where parents are welcome to wait, if they don't need to be involved in lessons, but still within earshot if they want to keep track of how things are progressing. Navigation Road tram stop and major bus routes are within walking distance, and parking is available on the road outside the house.

Beginners

What will I achieve? What will I learn in the first 4 weeks? How long does it take to become 'good'?

Everybody picks things up at different speeds, and the amount of practice people manage to do from week to week varies. However, anyone can expect to be getting a good sound out of the instrument, using the bow, within a week or two. We can be playing simple familiar tunes not long after that. For those who wish to take graded examinations, the target of passing Grade 1 within a year of starting is often a suitable one, and anyone improving at the rate of a grade a year can pat themselves on the back.

In some ways, it takes a lifetime to become 'proficient' at the violin, and very few players would dare to claim that they've got nothing left to learn. Hopefully, you'll be able to get some satisfaction from the instrument right from the start, and other people at home will be able to hear progress almost straight away.

What will I need?

A suitable complete outfit (violin, bow and case) for a beginner is the 'Stentor Student 2'. I advise avoiding the very cheapest violins, as they can cause no end of problems. If you want to spend a bit more on something more fancy, contact a specialist shop such as Ayres Violins, in Didsbury. They may also have secondhand instruments available, which will have been fully checked over, so that you can be sure they're ready for use.

Children will need a smaller violin, and need to be measured for size, so it's best to consult a violin shop or wait until our first meeting before buying anything.

Other accessories that are a good idea are a music stand (£10-£15) and a shoulder rest (£15-£25), both of which I can advise you on once you've started. For the first few lessons, you'll be able to borrow music, after which you'll need to buy one or two books. Some of the ones I use most frequently are listed here.

Don't beginners sound terrible? What about my neighbours?

It won't be as bad as you might fear. There'll be a few awkward sounds to start with, but it should be recognisable as a violin from day one. It's probably a good idea to chat with any neighbours with whom you share a wall, explaining what you're doing, and asking if there's particular times that you should avoid practising. The sound of the violin doesn't carry through walls as much as many other instruments, though.

Existing players

Pupil playing the violin

I've been learning for a while, but my teacher is moving away/I'm changing schools and can't have lessons there/...

No problem, these situations arise. I'm very familiar with helping pupils through such transitions as smoothly as possible. Come and meet me, show me something you can play already (don't worry, it's not an audition!), and if you're happy with how things go we can plan ahead for regular lessons.

It's been a while since I stopped lessons, but want to start learning again.

Great! Never mind that you've had a break, all that hard work from before hasn't gone to waste, we'll be able to build from where you'd got to, while maybe also bringing a fresh outlook to things.

I think I (or my child) would benefit from changing teachers.

Every experienced teacher recognises that not all teacher-pupil relationships work out well, plus some children find having lessons in school to be rather disruptive when it means missing other lessons and having to catch up with work. I've certainly been on either side of this exchange in the past.

If you're in this position, please be reassured that I'll treat it sensitively. I'm happy to meet with you and discuss the position you're in, and give you the chance to think things through and to discuss it with your present teacher (and perhaps other school staff, if you're having lessons there) before making any decision. My priority is that you move ahead in whichever way will help you progress with your playing and learning, and any discussions we have about your current situation will be treated with appropriate confidentiality.

Adult learners

I'm an adult. Is it too late for me to learn?

No. There's lots of misinformation out there, that adults can't learn new skills, that they don't have the flexibility in their joints, or whatever. Adults can find starting an instrument from scratch a frustrating experience at times, because we're so much more self-aware than young children, and tend to worry as soon as we make a sound which isn't quite right. However, as long as you're prepared to put in the regular work that's needed, there's nothing stopping you.

But I can't read music.

You'll learn! This is one of the skills you'll be taught while learning the instrument, so don't worry about it.

I played the violin when I was at school, but then stopped. Am I able to start up again?

You may be worried that you'll have to start again from scratch, but you'll probably surprise yourself with how much you'll remember, and we can quickly get you back up to speed. It might be that you now have a bit more patience than when you were younger, and are able to focus harder on getting some of the technical details just right. This will pay dividends in the way it'll let you improve further with confidence.

Would I be your oldest pupil?

Probably not! There's plenty of people who have decided to pick up the instrument at a later stage, or who have neglected it for a while but have come back to it.

I already play the guitar/piano/etc. Is it a good idea to start learning another instrument?

Yes. I started playing the tuba three years ago, in part to develop my understanding of instruments which I knew precious little about, and am thoroughly enjoying it!

A lot of the skills you have developed with another instrument will translate straight away, particularly if you're already comfortable reading music and have developed good aural awareness. Guitarists often also find that their finger strength and dexterity gives them a bit of a head start when it comes to getting things in place on the violin or the viola, there's just the small matter of having no frets...

Parents

How can I help my child learn?

Positive encouragement and reassurance are the most important things you can offer. Help them to get themselves organised, to get into a routine of practising, but also let them work independently. This includes making mistakes, which are an inevitable part of acquiring new skills, so give them the time and space to try and figure things out for themselves.

It can be very helpful if you discuss what they're doing from time to time, though. For example, you could ask them to show you what is particularly important or difficult in a piece they're learning and how they should tackle it, to help them remember what's we've talked about in lessons.

Let them feel welcome to play their instrument - don't shut them away in the farthest room or the garden shed, and don't complain about the noise (unless it's at a ridiculous time of day!) If they start to feel self-concious about disturbing other people, they won't be able to concentrate properly on learning and improving.

Any learner, of any age, will have days when nothing seems to go right, and gentle sympathy is all that can be offered. On the other hand, when you can hear progress and improvement, be sure to say so.

Finally, if you feel there's a problem that you can't solve, or you need more advice, then feel free to ask me. Email is best, because then I can check back on records of what we've done in past lessons and make sure I explain things correctly.

What now?

Rear view of the violin being played

Get in touch! Phone or email me, and we can arrange a time to meet and talk through what your aims are.

I don't yet have an instrument - should I get one now?

Don't jump into buying anything yet - wait until we've talked through exactly what your needs will be. It would be much better to have a bit of a delay now than to start off on an unsuitable violin or viola.

I've got a violin, but I don't know if it's the right size/in playable condition/good enough.

When we first meet, bring it along, I'll take a look at it and let you know whether it meets your needs. If it's an older instrument, it may need a small amount of work to get it back up to playable condition, provided it's not sustained any major damage.

I'm not sure about XYZ...

Feel free to ask me any questions. No matter how silly you may think they are, somebody else has probably asked the same things in the past.

Talking of silly questions...how do you pronounce your name?

Just like 'Owen'. Don't worry, pretty much everyone asks the same thing, unless they're also of Welsh descent.